June 17, 2024

What You Need to Know About Stanford’s President Resigning

Marc Tessier-Lavigne, a renowned neuroscientist, announced on Wednesday that he would resign as president of Stanford University, after the release of an external review of his scientific work that found fault with several high-profile journal articles published under his supervision.

The review was drafted by a committee in response to allegations that Dr Tessier-Lavigne was involved in scientific misconduct. There were five well-known biologists and neuroscientists on the committee, including Randy Schekman, who won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2013, and Shirley Tilghman, who was the president of Princeton University from 2001 to 2013. In its report, which focused on 12 academic papers, the committee said that there was no evidence that Dr.

But the committee noted that “it appears that multiple members of the laboratories of Dr. Tessier-Lavigne over the years of research data and/or were unable to follow accepted scientific practices,” pointing out multiple errors in the five papers for which Dr. Tessier-Lavigne led or supervised the research. In response, Dr. Tessier-Lavigne promised to withdraw three of the five articles, request major corrections to two and resign as president.

“I am very pleased that the panel concluded that I was not involved in any fraud or falsification of scientific data,” Dr Tessier-Lavigne said in a statement, adding: “Although I was not aware of these issues, I want to be clear that I take responsibility for the work of my laboratory members.”

In 2015, many concerns were raised on the PubPeer website about the image data published in three papers — one in the journal Cell in 1999 and two in the journal Science in 2001 — on which Dr. Tessier-Lavigne was the lead author. Concerns varied, pointing to what appeared to be digital editing and manipulation of image backgrounds, duplication of individual images and the creation of composite images that obscured the purity of scientific data.

Several media outlets revisited these concerns in 2022, including Stanford’s student newspaper, The Stanford Daily, which further scrutinized Dr. Tessier-Lavigne. The outlets highlighted images in more than a dozen different papers that Dr. Tessier-Lavigne worked on. While some images appeared to have little effect on the results of the studies, others appeared to have an effect substantial impact the results.

As a result, Stanford’s board of trustees opened an investigation into Dr. Tessier-Lavigne’s scientific work and organized a five-member expert panel to review the allegations.

In early 2023, The Stanford Daily published additional allegations that in 2009, when Dr. Tessier-Lavigne was working as an executive at the biotechnology company Genentech, he had published a paper in the journal Nature that contained falsified data. Relying on anonymous sources, the student newspaper suggested that a research review committee conducted an internal investigation at Genentech into the 2009 paper and found evidence of data falsification. The Stanford Daily also suggested that Dr. Tessier-Lavigne was made aware of these issues but prevented them from being released to the public.

Dr Tessier-Lavigne strongly denied the allegations.

After meeting 50 hours and collecting 50,000 documents, the five-member expert panel released its findings on Wednesday. He concluded that while there was image manipulation and evidence of methodological carelessness in all of the papers he examined, Dr Tessier-Lavigne had not engaged in any of this himself and had not “knowingly charged others to do it.”

The most serious allegation was also dropped: falsification of data in his 2009 Nature paper. The committee noted that the research “lacked the rigor expected of a potential paper” and concluded that Dr. Tessier-Lavigne could have been more accurate about the paper’s shortcomings, but concluded that the allegations of fraud were false.

In the paper, the researchers claimed to have found a chain reaction of brain proteins, including one called Death Receptor 6, that contributed to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. If the research continued, it promised to present a new way to better understand and treat the disease.

“There was some excitement that this might be another way to think about the disease,” said Dr. Matthew Schrag, a neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University.

However, further research – some published by Dr Tessier-Lavigne’s laboratory – found that the experiments that highlighted the role of the DR6 chain reaction in Alzheimer’s did not prove what was said. This was true, in part, due to unexpected side effects of the inhibitors used in the experiments, as well as impurities in the proteins used.

The expert panel suggested that Dr. Tessier-Lavigne could have issued a correction or retraction outright, rather than publish more articles that contradicted the findings of the 2009 paper. But the report found that the fraud allegations, first published in The Stanford Daily based on testimony from largely anonymous sources (some of whom the committee could not identify), compounded an unrelated case of scientific misconduct in Dr. Tessier-Lavigne’s lab with the 200 paper. 9.

Dr. Schrag, who found images that appeared to be duplicates of the 2009 study and announced them publicly in February, said the study was not rigorous enough. “The quality of the work was not high,” said Dr. Schrag, emphasizing that he was speaking for himself and not for the university.

Of the 12 papers reviewed by the expert committee, it found that almost all contained “manipulation of research data”. According to the report, such manipulation involves a range of practices, including digitally altering images, splicing panels, using data from unrelated experiments, duplicating data and digitally altering the appearance of proteins. But the committee allowed that some of the manipulated examples may have been inadvertent, or it may have been an attempt to “embellish” the results.

Mike Rossner, president of biomedical image manipulation consulting company Image Data Integrity, said he spent 12 years screening manuscripts accepted for publication in The Journal of Cell Biology between 2002 and 2013. He found that about 25 percent of papers that violated our guidelines had some form of manipulation and needed to be corrected before publication. In most cases, he said, the issues were inadvertent and did not affect the interpretation of the data. But in about 1 percent of the cases it was necessary to pull the paper.

“This pattern is emerging that this is not as rare as we would like to believe it is,” said Dr. Scrap.

The numerous cases of image manipulation prompted the expert committee to talk to postdoctoral researchers who worked under Dr. Tessier-Lavigne at various times and at various institutions, including Stanford and Genentech.

Many praised Dr. Tessier-Lavigne’s intellectual acumen and commitment to scientific rigor, but many also described a laboratory culture that encouraged good results and successful experiments. They felt that the lab, and Dr. Tessier-Lavigne, “tended to reward the ‘winners’ (that is, postdocs who could generate favorable results) and marginalize or minimize the ‘losers’ (that is, postdocs who could not or had difficulty generating such data),” the report noted.

The committee decided that Dr. Tessier-Lavigne this dynamic, but that it may have contributed to the high rate of data manipulation that came out of his laboratories.

Dr. Tessier-Lavigne, who will step down as president on August 31 but will remain a professor of biology at Stanford, said in an email to the students: “Although I keep a close eye on all the science in my lab, I have always operated my lab on trust – trust in my students and postdocs, and I trust that the data I was presenting was true and accurate. Going forward, I will be tightening controls further.”

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